Sorry beer, you've had your day.
At the time of writing this, at exactly the mid-point of the 40s, I'm finding that beer only leads to woozy inertia and a flabby gut worthy of Homer Simpson.
No good can come from excess beer – I've even been told so by Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the latest episode which is appropriately called Beer Bad. In Sunnydale, it's now even impossible to drink a pint of beer without something weird happening. Some of the more obnoxious patrons of the Sunnydale University pub have gone all caveman after sinking copious pints of ale.
If you're new to this metaphor lark, then this essentially means that Too Much Beer = Rowdy Caveman. Even with a thumping hangover, it's still easy to deduce the moral of Beer Bad's flimsy excuse for a story. If only there was a bit more to it than this.
Regrettably, looking for good points in Beer Bad is like looking for a single, functioning empathy cell in the Tory party. The trouble is, it seems like decades ago that I was having to sit through a real Buffy clunker – I think it was Bad Eggs if memory serves me well – so I've been unconsciously programmed to expect the highest quality from the show.
The main problem with Beer Bad is that there's zero depth to be had here. It's a silly runaround in which Buffy and a quartet of close-harmony pretentious student bozos regress back to the Stone Age while faffing around with fire and hitting eyebrowed poseurs with sticks.
The poseur in question turns out to be – surprise, surprise – Parker Abrams. Buffy's still pining for the smarmy gonk, mentally taking a break from the boredom of Walsh's class to visit a dreamland where Parker actually cares about someone else. Reality's a harsher place though – Parker still struts around campus like the cock of the walk, Adonis, Mr Loverman (Shaaaabbaaaahhh), etc. When it comes down to it though, there's only one person that Parker actually loves and that's the chap pulling cheesy poses in the mirror. Parker's the sort who probably buys himself roses on Valentine's Day. Ironically, it's only Willow who sees through this, still smarting from her own fella making cow eyes at a husky chanteuse who, for some odd reason, keeps humping her microphone stand while singing.
In small defence of Beer Bad, this is one of the few scenes which actually works. It's a further example of Willow growing in confidence. She shrewdly has the measure of Parker, incredulously brushing aside his pathetic attempts at flirting (“I got your number, id boy!”). The Willow of three seasons ago would have been quaking in her boots at such a confrontation, so it's nice to see her defending her best friend with such force. The aforementioned Oz scene also hints at something bad brewing – even worse than the beer brewing in the campus pub. It's unusual to see Oz show interest in anyone other than his beloved Willow, so the laughably named Veruca's clearly bad news.
Cool song though – it's hypnotically creepy in its own way.
Other than that, Beer Bad is a complete waste of time and effort. Both on the viewer's part and also on the actors asked to perform this nonsense. The fault lies with the script – an uncomfortable mish mash of quasi-intellectual balderdash and brain-dead grunting. By Buffy The Vampire Slayer standards, this is amateurish stuff. Normally, Buffy episodes contain a subtle moral or message for viewers to latch on to, but this time around, the subtext is very obviously the text. Harrumphing landlord takes revenge on the pretentious students by lacing their beer with some mystical substance that regresses them back to cavemen. That's fair do's, given that the students are pompous, boring douches, trying to win the girls over by sounding like they've swallowed psychology textbooks whole.
As if that's not bad enough, they attempt to make Xander feel about as tall as Gachnar: “We are the future of this country and you keep our bowl of peanuts full. We are what these girls want.” Poor old Xander really can't catch a break this season – he's constantly made to feel out of the loop because he's not at college. The snotty students are only there to serve as an extra kick in the teeth.
But the motivation of the landlord is as vague as they come. “They had it coming,” he grumbles, which isn't exactly up there with the fiendish masterminds of The Master, Angelus or The Mayor. It's just one example of how the bowl of substantial peanuts is empty in Beer Bad.
Worse still, nothing really happens. Buffy decides to hang out with these losers and also gets converted into a Stone Age throwback. So for half of the episode, we follow the tedious “adventures” of Cave Buffy and Cave Students. Gasp in wonder as they set a building on fire! Hang on the edge of your seat as they capture two random girls for no good reason! Punch the air as Buffy clunks Parker over the head with a large stick! Actually, that last bit's fair game, but given that Buffy's got her just desserts in far more intelligent and well worked out fashion in the past, this is a big, big comedown.
Tracey Forbes' script sadly fails to work. It's full of weak attempts at humour – Xander's oft-repeated “Rough day?” isn't even that funny the first time, and his bellow of “Nothing can defeat the penis!” ain't exactly worth a belly laugh either. It's also crammed full of turgid cod-sociology speak, from Walsh's initial bleatings about the pleasure principle through to the overlong ramblings from the students. Sure, I've heard many a pompous student diatribe, but never quite this bad. The sad thing about this is that Buffy The Vampire Slayer is always capable of producing well-written, witty and exciting scripts. Beer Bad sticks out like a sore thumb in that it contains none of the above – even if this was Forbes' first script for the show, you would have thought that more careful script editing was needed here. Beer Bad reads like a wonky first draft of what's a pretty stupid idea for a story anyway.
In tune with this sub-par writing is equally nondescript production. David Solomon's direction is OK, but by Buffy standards, this is unremarkable stuff. It's a workmanlike reading of a poor script, although Solomon does do his best to generate some sort of tension with the fire scenes – not that anyone would actually give a damn if Parker croaked it in the flames anyway. Christophe Beck's score is actually very good, but the problem is, it doesn't belong here, instead sounding like it was created for a story far more dramatic than this.
Willow aside, all of the regulars get a poor deal. Buffy is either STILL moping over Parker or impersonating Captain Caveman (although the bit where she steals the student's sandwich is quite funny). Xander's jokes are off beam this week, and his barman shenanigans are pretty dull. Both Giles and Oz get little more than cameo appearances – in the case of Oz, it's a particular shame, since he's upping sticks next time around. None of the supporting characters make any impact, although inexplicably Bryan Cuprill's Roy would return in Where The Wild Things Are, still peddling his pseudo-intellectual tosh. And guess who wrote that one?
Even on paper, Beer Bad sounds like an idea that goes nowhere. The fault of Beer Bad can only lie with the production team who inexplicably opted to commission such a no-go story. There's very little to enjoy in Beer Bad. The humour's unfunny, the script's clunky and worst of all, it's lacking in intelligence, sophistication and excitement, which are the three main hallmarks of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Ironically, I feel like I need a drink, having sat through this tosh. The joke's on me again.
Rough day? Oh yes.